James W. Dye Jr.

Branch: NAVY
Service Number: 2452293
Rank: Aviation Radioman Third Class
Unit: Torpedo Squadron 82 (VT-82) 

As preface to this story, I have used many excerpts from the novel," Flyboys: A True Story of Courage" by author James Bradley. Mr. Bradley was able to interview several of Jimmy’s family, friends, Navy buddies, captors and even the executioners to get a true feel for his life. His work was invaluable to be able to tell Jimmy’s life story. While his death was much more graphically depicted in Bradley’s book, I have chosen to spare the reader from the most, but not all of the ghastly details.


41 W. Buckingham Avenue
James Wesley Dye, Jr., who went by “Jimmy” to his friends and “Buddy” by his family, was born on November 27, 1925 in Gloucester City, NJ to parents James Wesley Dye Sr. and Kathryn Teresa (Brannon) Dye. It appears he was baptized on the same day by the Highland Park Methodist Church in Gloucester City. Jimmy had a younger sibling, Ronald Joseph “Ronnie” Dye, born in December 1931. The Dye family lived for some time with Kathryn’s parents at 12 East Thompson Avenue in Gloucester City, but later set out on their own in Runnemede for a brief time. In 1935, the Dyes purchased a home at 41 West Buckingham Avenue in Mount Ephraim, NJ. James Sr. was employed as a truck driver for a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia and was an associate member of the Mount Ephraim Fire Company #2. Kathryn was very involved in the PTA and square dancing club. She was fond of singing, particularly her favorite song was “Pistol Packing Mama.” 

As kids, Jimmy and his friend Dave Kershaw, were both active in the Boy Scouts of America program but had to drop out because the young family was feeling of the effects of the Great Depression. They just could not financially keep him enrolled. He instead spent summers swimming and winters ice skating at Audubon Lake and other watering holes.   “There was this creek outside of town,” Dave Kershaw stated. “You had to walk through the woods, cars couldn’t get there, and it was very isolated. The creek carried overflow sewage from another town. It had a green scum on it, and there was a sign that read, ‘CONDEMNED. NO SWIMMING. TYPHOID FEVER.’ We just tore the sign down. The water was filthy, about five feet deep. We’d go out there on Palm Sunday. The water was ice-cold, and there could have been dangerous debris under the surface. Jimmy would dare everyone to dive. Then he would go first. He was a risk taker, and you could depend upon him to try something first.” 

Another time, Jimmy was the first to ride his bike across a narrow wooden construction plank suspended over a deep ditch. “His bike toppled over,” Dave said, “and he landed headfirst. He was groggy and didn’t know where he was when we pulled him out.” Once Jimmy and a group of his buddies decided it would be a kick to “break in” to the office of a moving and storage company. “We didn’t want to steal or vandalize, just experience the thrill of being where we weren’t supposed to be,” Dave said. “We were in and out of there in ten minutes, more scared of our parents than the police. And I remember who was the first to climb in through the window— Jimmy.”  

He was a good son and brother. Ronnie Dye was six years younger than his brother Jimmy. “Our mother,” Ronnie recalled, “would say to him, ‘You don’t have to take him along; he’s your kid brother.’ But Jimmy didn’t mind and he would take me with his friends to the high school football games. “Jimmy always had a scheme,” Ronnie remembered. “He would buy candy bars at the drugstore, three for ten cents. Then he would sell them back in the neighborhood for five cents each. He had a paper route, he ushered at a movie house, and he delivered telegrams for the post office before school. He made all his own spending money. He was very energetic, and Mom and Dad were real proud of him.” Ronnie said that once Jimmy won a ticket to the Army-Navy football game by selling magazine subscriptions. But Jimmy wasn’t one to sit back and enjoy the game. “Once there, he sold programs,” Ronnie said. “He came home with money and a piece of the goalpost.”

Dye's AHS Senior Picture
Jimmy attended Mount Ephraim Public School and then Audubon High School. His interests included photography, film processing, reading, and sports. In his junior year, he served as president of the high school's Camera Club. The organization was created for "snap-happy" students to discuss problems and solutions in all aspects of photography. Jimmy was said to be an outstanding soccer player and played throughout his high school years. When he wasn't participating in sports, he covered high school sporting events for the local newspaper, the Courier-Post. He also wrote articles for the “Parrot,” the Audubon High School newspaper. Dye seemed to have a penchant for the theater as well. In March 1942, he portrayed a baseball player named “Shorty” for the high school Junior class play titled, “Ever Since Eve.” In December 1942, he once again showed off his theatrical chops by taking on the roll of “Ed” in the Senior class play, “You Can’t Take It With You.”

In the 1943 Audubon"Le Souvenir” yearbook, his senior class write-up reads: “Class Flirt” and “Most Fickle” are the titles bestowed on “Jimmy,” who seems to believe in “loving’ them and leavin’ them.” Ethyl Jones dated Jimmy and remembered a tamer boy than the yearbook implies. “We never even kissed,” she said. Bernice Mawhiney recalled that Jimmy would “sit on my porch analyzing the girls he was trying to date. I remember he was in love with a cheerleader and she had no interest in him.” In his “class will,” he bequeathed his “fickleness” to Paul Soffe, Class of 1944. The yearbook was infused with a patriotic military theme. On one page was a message from the Audubon PTA: 

Greetings to the Class of 1943.

We congratulate you on the completion of your High School education. You have reached a milestone in your life, and for many of you it marks the ends of one way of life and the beginning of another.  
Yours is the privilege of serving your country in her hour of need: of repaying the gifts your country has given you. It is something to be able to say: “When my country was in danger, I helped defend it!”

Jimmy wanted to be the first in his class to say those words. And he wanted to soar. It already seemed clear that airplanes would win this war: Even the cover of Jimmy’s yearbook was dominated by a huge V for victory, set in front of billowing clouds, with a single airplane trailing a plume of exhaust racing across it. “He had a yearning to fly,” Dave Kershaw said. “In wood shop we made black wooden airplane models for the military, for their identification classes.” Whittling and painting airplanes day after day gave Jimmy an idea. He wanted to join the Navy Air Corps. After he convinced his father to sign his enlistment papers, Jimmy uncharacteristically did not show up at school. “They took roll and he didn’t answer,” Kershaw remembered. “Jimmy just disappeared.” Seventeen year-old James Dye— all five foot six inches and 120 pounds of him— enlisted at the Philadelphia Naval Recruiting Station on February 17, 1943. And exactly two years later to the day, it would happen again. Jimmy just disappeared.

On February 22, 1943, Jimmy arrived at the Naval Training Station Bainbridge in Port Deposit, Maryland. He spent 7 weeks of recruit training covering all assignments in the Naval Training Course, including instruction for Apprentice Seaman, swimming qualification, rifle qualification, and gas mask instruction. While here, he was in the Naval Hospital from February 24th to March 4th. On April 21, 1943, Jimmy was promoted from Apprentice Seaman to Seaman Second Class. He was granted 9 days of leave before returning on April 30th.

S2c Dye reported on May 5th, to the Naval Air Technical Training Center, located on the premises of Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. Here he attended Aviation Radio School until September 18, 1943. Jimmy was sent to the Naval Hospital here from June 11th to June 22nd for an unknown illness. Three days later, Dye was promoted to Aviation Radioman 3rd Class (Petty Officer 3rd Class). On September 20, 1943, Dye attended Aviation Radar Operators School until October 1, 1943. While Dye was training in Jacksonville, his high school graduation ceremony was being held back in Audubon on June 10, 1943. The Mount Ephraim Chamber of Commerce recognized Jimmy’s spunk with an award that read: “To the BOY of the Graduating Class who ranks highest in Preparation for Business based on Scholarship, Personality and Character.” 

Jimmy’s mother Kathryn became a charter member of the Selectees' Mothers Club, Chapter XI, of Mount Ephraim. Organized in August 1942, this club hosted card parties to raise funds for cash gifts to send to each person serving in the military. Any serviceman from the borough without representation in this organization, was given "adopted parents" to sponsor them. The Selectees' Mothers planned and oversaw the construction of an honor roll which displayed the names of those residents of the borough who were serving in the military. They also were responsible for the erection of the World War II memorial now at Veterans Triangle on Davis Avenue, in which her son's name is engraved. She remained very active in this club. Mrs. Dye was also involved with a Red Cross blood drive as well as a book collection for the servicemen. On August 3rd, Jimmy would receive a $3 gift from the Selectees’ Mothers Club. On October 5, 1943, Dye moved onto his next round of training at Navy Aerial Gunners School in Jacksonville, Florida until November 23, 1943. Upon completion at gunners school, he was transferred to NAS DeLand, Florida for training as aircrewman.

TBM-3 "Avenger"
Dye completed a 10 week course of instruction for aircrewman at NAS DeLand, Florida on February 13, 1944, using Douglas SBD-5 “Dauntless” dive bomber aircraft. He became a qualified Aviation Radioman Third Class (ARM3c) and received his Combat Aircrew Badge. Dye was transferred to Carrier Service Unit (CASU)-22 and sent to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island where he would train in a new Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors made TBM-3 “Avenger” aircraft. This plane allowed room for an additional crew member (3 versus the 2 seat Dauntless). Radiomen in an Avenger operated from a cramped space under the gunner. The space was only slightly larger than the gunner’s turret. “The radioman’s compartment underneath the turret is compact, but not as cramped as the turret,” remembered Ralph Sengewalt. “When the bomb bay doors opened below, you could see the whole world.” Radiomen had a .30-caliber gun they could shoot out the back of the plane, so they also went through gunnery practice. 

But their main focus was, not surprisingly, on becoming expert on the radios. “First we had to learn all the code,” radioman Bill Smith of Atlanta said.  “We studied how to use our receivers, navigational aids, semaphore, our beacon,” Bill continued. “We were trained about something new called radar and the Doppler effect, how it operates by sending out a pulse and having it bounce back.” “We spent twenty-two weeks at radio school,” radioman Joe Hudson of Shreveport said. “It takes a while to learn that code.”  The study was hard and serious, but the students weren’t. “Looking back now,” said Vince Carnazza, “we were so young, just high school kids. Jimmy was always coming up from behind me, grabbing my arms. We would wrestle like two teddy bears. We were just young guys testing each other in a playful manner.” As their long period of training wound down, the realization that they would soon be off to war set in. Leaving home had been a jolt for these young boys, but now they would be leaving their homeland, and it sobered them.

VT-82 Insignia
Airman Dye reported to NAS New Bedford, Massachusetts on April 12, 1944.  One week later, he was transferred to Torpedo Squadron 82 (VT-82), also known as “Devil’s Diplomats.” Here, he performed operational flying. By May 8, 1944, VT-82 shifted to NAS Hyannis, Massachusetts for primary torpedo training until May 19. The Diplomats were on the move again by June 10th when they reported to NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach for carrier group operational flying. VT-82 devoted all of July to operational training on glide bombing, fixed/free gunnery, torpedo tactics, cross country & routine training exercises. On July 14, the aircraft were flown to Army Airfield at Camp MacKall, NC due to hurricane evacuation orders. Between July 15-28, the squadron undertook specialized training in torpedo dropping at NAS Boca Chica, Florida. Jimmy participated in an operational training exercise on 21 July 1944 according to his Navy Record. 

On August 5, 1944, every aircraft (91 in total) from Carrier Air Group 82, consisting of Fighter Group VF-82 “Fighting Fools,” Bomber Group VB-82 “The Battering Rams,” and Torpedo Group VT-82 “Devil’s Diplomats,” flew to New York City for the commissioning of the new aircraft carrier USS Bennington (CV-20) which took place on the following day. This ship was soon to be the new home for this group. At the completion of ceremonies, the group returned to Oceana, where for the remainder of this month, Air Group 82 rehearsed coordinated attacks on towed targets, shipping, stationary floating targets and attacks against amphibious operations. They also conducted landing practice on aircraft carriers USS Charger (CVE-30) and USS Prince William (CVE-31) out in the Chesapeake Bay.

All aircraft had to be flown to Daniel Army Airfield in Augusta, Georgia on September 13th due to a hurricane evacuation order. The planes returned to Oceana on the 15th, but were ordered for the next few days to search for survivors of vessels that were stranded or sunk at sea following the hurricane. The group resumed regular training afterwards. While conducting operational training exercises on September 20th, Jimmy was suffering from severe abdominal pain and reported to the Naval Hospital in Norfolk. He was diagnosed with appendicitis and had an appendectomy performed the same day. Nine days later, on September 29th, Air Group 82 reported to USS Bennington. The men continued training for next few weeks.  

USS Bennington CV-20
On October 15, 1944, Dye departed Norfolk aboard USS Bennington for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea, arriving in Trinidad, British West Indies on October 22th. A battery of exercises were performed in Gulf of Paria for almost 3 weeks. With shakedown complete on November 10th, the Bennington was underway back to Norfolk. Three days later, the aircraft were flown back to NAS Quonset Point temporarily during the ship’s post-shakedown repairs being completed in Bayonne, NJ. The crew was given a leave of 8 days while Bennington was being patched up.  

Airman Dye used this time to return to Mount Ephraim. He would discover that his cousin George E. Dye from Atco, NJ, who was also serving in the Navy had died back on October 21st. George was overcome by fumes and drowned while escaping an inferno of burning fuel that surrounded his ship (LSM-211) at San Pedro Port in Los Angeles, California. The incident was ruled accidental and caused by sparks from a welder’s torch that ignited toluene, a highly flammable liquid added to gasoline, found floating on the surface of the water. The fire killed 16, injured 29 plus consumed 2 Navy ships as well as a dock. 

Jimmy and friend Les attended a football game on November 18th at Gloucester City High School, where the team took on the rival, Woodrow Wilson High from Camden. Here, he was introduced to a cheerleader named Gloria Nields. There was instant electricity between the two and they fell in love. Fifty-eight years later, Gloria Nields said of their youthful affair, “I only knew Jimmy a short time, but I was very infatuated. He was my childhood sweetheart. The moment we met I was breathless. It was like I was coming up for air. There was chemistry. I was naive and he was too. I was seventeen. Jimmy was in a uniform, ready to defend his country. There was something about him. His personality and his beautiful blue eyes. They just held you. It was extremely romantic for me. We both fell like a ton of bricks. I thought he was the one for me and he felt the same. Our relationship was short but intense. We were in love. I can remember a girlfriend of mine who saw us together said, ‘I’ve never seen you like this!’ I was so taken with him." 

Before his last night home, Jimmy’s mother phoned to ask if Gloria could come over because her son was leaving soon. "We didn’t have a telephone, so she called the neighbors. I was never allowed to date anyone more than three times in a row, so I was surprised when my parents said yes. Jimmy’s father picked me up in his car and took me to their house. Jimmy took my coat as I entered. He put it on a bed and then he kissed me. I will never forget. He was my first love. We sat in the living room with his parents. They sat in chairs; we sat on the couch. At one point he lay down and put his head in my lap. I was timid, but I allowed it. He closed his eyes; I could feel that he felt good I was there. He was so affectionate. I touched his wavy hair. All along, Jimmy’s parents kept watch.” Fast-talking Jimmy was now old enough to fight and die for his country. But on the last date of his life, he was too young to be alone with a girl.

Jimmy returned to the squadron and on December 14, 1944, Air Group 82 was moved a short distance from Oceana to NAS Norfolk in preparation for boarding onto the Bennington. The next day, with all aircraft aboard, the carrier was underway and bound for the Panama Canal Zone. The ship arrived on December 20, 1944 and the group held a simulated attack on the Panama Canal defense zone installations. Following this exercise, USS Bennington moored at Pier 8 in Christobal for the evening where half of the crew was granted an evening pass to see the sights. The next day, the ship navigated through the canal to the Pacific Ocean at Balboa where they moored at Pier 18. The other half of the crew was then given liberty to experience Panama City for the evening.  

On December 22nd, the Bennington departed Panama cruising north to the NAS San Diego, arriving on the 29th. The crew of the Bennington had a late Christmas feast and were able to visit the city. Their stay here was brief. After refueling, re-supplying, and bolstering Carrier Air Group 82 with two additional Marine Corps Fighter Groups, VMF-112 and VMF-123, the ship steamed off for Pearl Harbor on New Year’s Day, 1945. 

Aircraft launched from USS Bennington
As Bennington arrived in Hawaii in January 7th, the aircraft aboard were flown off to NAS Kahului in Maui, HI. The men enjoyed off duty time partying at Nimitz Beach and touring around the island. Everyone was keenly aware that this was to be the final place to get any down time before really getting into the war. From January 14-19, the squadron conducted torpedo training exercises staged from NAS Barbers Point and NAS Kaneohe. They returned aboard the Bennington on the 20th where additional training was held. 

Task Group 12.2 got underway in the morning of January 29, 1945 for the Navy staging area at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands. The Bennington was in company with five other carriers and seven destroyers. The group crossed the 180th meridian on the early morning of February 1st, instantly advancing the date to February 2nd. Everyone on board received a membership card for the “Domain of the Golden Dragon,” an unofficial Navy award given to crew members crossing the International Date Line. The ships arrived on the afternoon of February 7th and departed three days later as Carrier Task Group 58.1

As Jimmy Dye sailed to his destiny aboard the USS Bennington, his ebullient optimism deserted him. Jimmy had come to the conclusion that he wasn’t coming back. As if to inoculate them from the coming pain, Jimmy wrote his “Dearest Folks” to assure them they had been wonderful parents: You and Dad never held me back. You gave me everything I ever wanted. I can think of nothing that I ever wished for and didn’t get. My home wasn’t just a home it was a place where I could come and bring my friends knowing it was clean and nice and that my friends would be welcomed and treated the way I wanted them to be. Yet at the same time it was a home where we could have fun and act up without feeling like you were in a china shop like some homes are. I guess I was lucky to have such a family and I really don’t know how I rated it.  

Jimmy referred to Gloria Nields, who had held his head so tenderly on the couch, as “The Girl” and concluded that “Fate” would “keep us apart.” While he never came out and wrote explicitly, “I’m not coming back,” it’s hard to come to any other conclusion about his meaning. “I know that if you ever receive this it will be the toughest time of your lives,” he told his parents. They should know, he said, that it was his decision to enlist. “I went in doing what I wanted to do. “I’m not afraid to go because I know someday we’ll be together again,” Jimmy continued, telling his parents to be strong: “God be with you and protect you. Keep your chins up. Remember whenever things went wrong Mom and Dad you always said, ‘We’ll make it somehow’ and we always did, this isn’t much different.” In his final paragraph he wrote, “Goodbye for now. The Lord bless and keep you. We’ll be together again someday.” 

Jimmy never told Gloria Nields of his belief, and she continued to pen regular letters to him and sleep with his photograph. It was a formal close-up of him in his navy uniform that highlighted Jimmy’s blue-eyed, all-American good looks (The picture at the top of this page). Gloria had the eight-by-ten photo framed. For Christmas she mailed Jimmy a white scarf. “It was pretty and I could afford it,” she said. “I thought of it as a personal gift; I liked the idea of him wearing my scarf around his neck.”
Grady A. York Jr.

Radioman Jimmy Dye and Gunner Grady York awoke early to a dark and cold Sunday morning on February 18, 1945, to prepare for their first combat mission. They gathered in the ready room to be briefed on the day’s target. Their mission was a strike on installations and ships at Omura Harbor on Chichi Jima, a small neighboring island to the more well-known Iwo Jima in the Bonin Island chain. Chichi Jima housed a key long range communication facility for the Japanese military. They would fly that morning with pilot Bob King. This was to be King's first combat mission as well.

February 18 in the Pacific was February 17 back home, and it marked two years to the day since Jimmy had enlisted. “We hadn’t been in cold climates until then,” Vince Carnazza remembered. “I had a black navy-issue sweater and Jimmy asked if he could borrow it. I gave it to him and said, ‘If I don’t get that sweater back, it’s your ass.’ ” As they were headed out the door, Jimmy did something that Ralph Sengewalt will never forget. “Jimmy stopped at the door,” Ralph told me, “turned around, and with a smile, tossed his wallet to someone who was remaining behind. As he did it he called out, ‘Just in case I don’t come back, see to it that my mom and dad get this.’ ” Kidding was one thing, but Flyboys almost never spoke so directly about death. “When Jimmy said that,” Ralph recalled, “I had a strange feeling then and there. We never talked about not coming back.” The assault two days earlier on Tokyo had been considered dangerous, but that day’s strike against Chichi Jima was anticipated to be relatively easy, a “milk run.” That’s why so many of the inexperienced airmen, like Bob King, Jimmy, and Grady, were heading out. But Jimmy must have had a sixth sense about the danger that awaited him. Jimmy had tossed his wallet, but he did keep something for good luck that day. His girlfriend, Gloria Nields, later said: “In the last letter I got from Jimmy he wrote, ‘I am flying off now with your white scarf on.’ ” 
VT-82 Avenger on Bennington

Flight 5 launched from the deck of USS Bennington at 12:50pm with eighteen Grumman F6F-5 “Hellcats” from VF-82, each armed with six 5” rockets, twelve Douglas SB2C-4E "Hell Divers" from VB-82, each loaded with six 5” rockets as well as two 500 pound general purpose bombs, and eleven General Motors TBM-3 “Avengers" from VT-82, each carrying a payload of four 500 pound general purpose bombs. In formation aboard the TBM-3, Bureau number 22904, tail number 113 was Ensign Robert T. King, Aviation Radioman Third Class James W. Dye Jr., and Aviation Ordinanceman Third Class Grady A. York Jr. King’s left wingman, was Ensign Robert J. Cosbie and his crew of two. To the rear of Cosbie, was another Avenger piloted by Lieutenant Jessie W. Naul Jr. Here is an account of what happened on this mission from Lt. Naul: “We came in at about nine thousand feet and we were getting ready to go into our dive. I was behind Cosbie’s plane. Suddenly, antiaircraft fire shot Cosbie’s right wing off. His plane went into a clockwise spin, spinning clockwise down toward the right, where his wing had been. Cosbie’s plane flipped upside down and went sideways. It slammed into King’s plane. Cosbie’s left wing hit King’s plane between the turret and the vertical stabilizer. At the same time, Cosbie’s propeller hit King’s left wing and chewed off four feet of it. King’s plane then went into a spin. King thought they would crash, so he told his crew to bail out. Jimmy and Grady bailed out. My crew yelled, ‘We see two chutes.’ King had his seat belt off, fixing to bail out, and to his surprise, he got the plane straight. He ‘caught it,’ meaning he caught the spin and righted the plane. He kept flying.” After King jettisoned the bombs, the aircraft stabilized just enough to keep airborne. 

Jimmy and Grady floated down in the midst of exploding shells. “Their chutes were surrounded by antiaircraft bursts,” recalled Joe Bonn. “I dismissed them as shot up, dead.” But amazingly, the two crewmen landed safely just off shore. “We flew down to drop them a life raft,” Ralph Sengewalt said, “but we didn’t drop it because we could see Jimmy and Grady in knee-deep water, walking toward the shore. We thought they’d be prisoners and they’d be safe— at least that was our hope.”

King's damaged TBM-3
After Jimmy and Grady had bailed out of their plane, pilot Bob King had flown back to the carrier at an altitude of one thousand feet accompanied by other squadron planes. All who saw the plane airborne with most of its left wing missing were amazed. And there was more. The back of the plane was bent where Cosbie’s nose had struck. “Like a playing card bent in half,” Jesse Naul said later. “It was bent in the middle and drooped.” “We told him his landing gear wouldn’t work, that he shouldn’t even try,” Jesse said. “We told him he’d have to make a water landing.” King smacked his plane down on the ocean, bending it with the impact. “I tossed King a life raft,” said Robert Akerblom. “I opened the door, holding it. ‘Now,’ my pilot yelled.” King had taken a bad jolt when he hit the water and spent the night in sick bay, but he was alive— more than alive: He returned to flying the next day. But the young pilot was a changed man. “King was the most heartbroken man I ever saw in my life,” Ralph Sengewalt told me. “He lost two men and lived. He didn’t say much. I think he never really recovered from that flight, he was so moved. We knew what he went through; no one blamed him. What he did was almost miraculous.” “All he’d say was, ‘I had my seat belt off,’ ” Jesse Naul remembered. “Everybody would have done the same thing. King gave Jimmy and Grady an opportunity to get out. He was looking out for his guys like he was supposed to. He was ready to bail when the plane righted. He was surprised when it did. He had his seat belt off, ready to jump.”

The Flyboys felt the loss on the USS Bennington. “It was at the debriefing that it all came together,” said Ken Meredith. “We went back to the ready room. The guys who aren’t there, the empty chairs— those are the guys who didn’t come back. I made a statement about what I saw to the air combat intelligence officer. As the debriefing went on, a total picture was developed. Then we realized Grady and Jimmy were gone.” “The planes didn’t come back,” said radioman Bob Martin. “There was nothing you could do. That’s the way it was; it could happen to anyone. We just all figured our time would come.”

Jimmy and Grady landed on the small neighbor island of Ani Jima. One man parachuted onto the northern side of Mikauri Mountain, the other on the western side at 3:30pm. Both airmen were captured by the 275th Battalion of the Imperial Japanese Army and taken to the battalion headquarters on Ani Jima for questioning. However, none of the Japanese could speak English so their interrogation was unsuccessful. A call came from brigade headquarters on Chichi Jima with orders from General Yoshio Tachibana to have the flyers sent to Major Yoshitaka Horie’s headquarters. The flyers were put on a daihatsu (Japanese Landing Craft) and transported to Ryokan Shireibu arriving at 9pm. Jimmy and Grady were then shuttled to Horie’s HQ at Haken Shireibu that evening. Horie was awoken and told of the arrival of the prisoners. He told guards to tie up the flyers to trees outside of General Tachibana's headquarters for evening as the major refused to have his sleep disturbed.
General Yoshio Tachibana

Captain Kimitomi Nishiyotsutsuji remembered that General Tachibana encouraged anyone who wanted to beat the two bound nineteen-year-olds to do so. The general further warned that anyone who protected the boys by putting them in an air-raid shelter, or was lenient with them in any way, would face his wrath. Jimmy and Grady were certainly roughed up as they sat tied to those trees. But presumably this was mostly because soldiers coming and going from the general’s headquarters had to demonstrate their toughness to their commander. The boys were tied there as trophies of General Tachibana, who demanded that his men show proper Japanese spirit. Under the cover of darkness, however, one soldier showed mercy. Captain Tadaaki Kosuga wanted to help the bound Americans but dared not disobey General Tachibana’s prohibition against feeding them. But he found a way to give the boys something to eat while remaining true to the letter of his commander’s order. “The cakes that I gave to the prisoners were not military-supplied food,” said Kosuga, “but cake which I bought with my own money. Therefore, I thought it would be all right.”

Major Yoshitaka Horie
The next day, Monday, February 19, Jimmy and Grady were taken to Major Horie’s headquarters. Horie could speak some English and interrogated the prisoners periodically for five days. Here they were tied up and watched by guards. By February 23, Jimmy and Grady were returned to General Tachibana’s headquarters who claimed that the flyers would be executed as soon as Major Horie was through with them. The 275th and the 307th Battalions would be selected to execute Jimmy Dye and Grady York. The two flyers said goodbye to each other, not knowing if they would ever meet again.

York was taken away by the 307th Battalion and later executed by bamboo spearing and bayoneting. Jimmy was left alone outside Tachibana’s building. The general then gave the order for the 275th Battalion, the group that had captured Jimmy and Grady on the beach, to execute Jimmy. “Have that flyer executed with bamboo spears,” Captain Kosuga remembered General Tachibana ordering him. Kosuga phoned the 275th Battalion to express the general’s wishes. Soldiers from the 275th headquarters drove to Tachibana’s headquarters to pick up Jimmy while other soldiers dug his grave and nailed a wooden crossbar to a nearby tree. Jimmy would be tied to the cross and pierced with bamboo spears. But before the soldiers from the 275th Battalion arrived, someone else came to claim Jimmy. “A car from the wireless station came,” Kosuga recalled, “and a sailor got out and said he came to get a flyer.” He said there was an arrangement between Japanese Navy Captain Shizuo Yoshii, the commander of the radio station, and General Tachibana. “I went to the general’s room and told him that the car had come to take a flyer to the Yoake wireless station. The general said, ‘All right,’ and the flyer was sent.” Days earlier, navy captain Yoshii had asked General Tachibana for a prisoner to assist with the radio station’s monitoring of U.S. military messages. The general fulfilled his promise to the navy by handing over Jimmy. Radioman Dye’s life, for the moment, had unknowingly been spared.

As the car wound it's way up to Mount Yoake, Jimmy had no idea what was going on or where they were heading, but he could see a tall radio antenna appearing. The imperial navy’s Mount Yoake radio station had two missions: to relay Japanese military information between the troops out in the Pacific and Tokyo and to eavesdrop on U.S. military radio communications. Because of the inferior state of Japanese radio receivers at that time, these jobs could not be done in Tokyo; a presence in “No Mans Land” was necessary. Captain Yoshii hoped that Jimmy could help his team understand the American codes they intercepted. The car stopped and Jimmy was brought to Captain Yoshii’s office near the radio station atop Mount Yoake. Yoshii only spoke Japanese, so he had one of the radio station’s English speakers, Petty Officer Fumio Tamamura, who was born in San Francisco, California, act as his translator.

Fumio Tamamura in his later years
(Courtesy of James Bradley)
With Tamamura interpreting, Captain Yoshii questioned Jimmy. “We learned that he came from an American task force in the vicinity,” Tamamura said. “He said his home carrier was the USS Bennington. He told us the dates the carrier left Pearl Harbor and later Ulithi. He gave his name and rank as James Dye, Aviation Radioman third class.” Tamamura remembered Jimmy as “tall, with a light complexion, light-colored hair, wearing a leather jacket, dark green trousers, and field shoes. Also, he was wearing a white silk scarf.” Yoshii told Tamamura to take the prisoner to the radio station and put him to work listening to American messages. “Report on your progress,” the captain ordered. But Jimmy was in no condition to make any progress. His characteristic cheerfulness had long since abandoned him. Jimmy was nineteen years old, far from home, and very scared. “He was in a nervous state of mind,” Tamamura said. “I knew he could not do any work, so I let him sit in front of a receiving set and we talked a lot.” 

Jimmy spoke of New Jersey and life in the navy. He showed Tamamura his hands and explained that they hurt from being tied up at Tachibana’s headquarters. He said he was worried about Grady, his tail gunner. And, after the relationship between them warmed, Jimmy fingered his scarf and told Tamamura that it held special meaning for him. “He said he got it from his sweetheart,” Tamamura remembered. “Dye and I discussed mostly other things than our business,” Tamamura said. “As he was a little tired out, I thought it would be unreasonable to start work from the beginning. So we never did get started on our work.” That evening, Jimmy got a comfortable night of sleep in the generator room at the receiving station.

Lieutenant Minoru Hayashi observed the prisoner sitting with Petty Officer Tamamura in the radio station. It was only the second time he had seen a foreigner. “He was young and skinny,” Hayashi remembered. “He was slumped over somewhat. He looked like he had lost his personal power. He looked unhappy, limp— like he gave up. I felt sorry for the prisoner. He wasn’t some big guy to hate.” Tamamura did not tell Captain Yoshii the prisoner never buckled down to work in the two days he was there. But there were about twenty others working in the radio station, and word got around. “I heard that he was not very good in intercepting and translating messages,” Petty Officer Shohei Shiina said. As word spread, Yoshii’s first impression was reinforced, and he made a decision. “Yoshii called me to his office,” Tamamura said, “and told me, ‘The Americans may land tomorrow or in a few days. You, all of us, should be prepared to die. And today at 4 PM, we are going to execute the prisoner.” 

Tamamura tried to cover for Jimmy, promising Yoshii that the prisoner would be a big help in the future. “I told the captain that Dye was working and to have his life saved, but it was impossible,” Tamamura later testified. “The captain told me in front of some officers, ‘You tried to save his life, didn’t you? That is not good.’ Later I heard that a number of times.” As young Tamamura made his way back to Jimmy in the radio station, he wondered, “Should I tell him he is going to die this afternoon? Or should I not? If I was in his shoes, which would I prefer? I could not tell him. I thought that in his nervous mental state, it would have been too much for him. “We sat and talked all morning,” Tamamura said. “He talked a lot about the gunner on his plane. Dye was always worried about him.” As Jimmy and Fumio chatted in the radio station, Captain Yoshii announced plans to the others in the mess hall. Lieutenant Shinichi Matsutani later recalled, “After the morning meal, the captain said, ‘Today at four o’clock we shall execute the prisoner. I shall have the young officers execute him to build up their nerve. Hayashi and Matsutani, both of you will cut.’ ” Then Yoshii turned to the unit’s doctor, Mitsuyoshi Sasaki, and ordered, “You will remove the liver.” After breakfast, the three who had been ordered to take part in Jimmy’s execution went individually to Captain Yoshii to protest. “Today at four o’clock, the execution shall be held in front of the fuel storage house,” Captain Yoshii sternly instructed his young charge. “And you will be there.” The date was February 24th. 

Jimmy and Tamamura chatted at the radio station all morning and through lunch. At 2 P.M., Captain Yoshii’s orderly came by and told Tamamura that the captain wanted Jimmy’s leather jacket and white scarf. Tamamura told Jimmy to hand them over. He did so, but this must have alarmed him. It was February, the nights were chilly, and everyone else had a jacket; now Jimmy didn’t. And his last connection with home— Gloria’s white silk scarf— was now gone. The two boys continued their chat. Then, about 4 P.M., the orderly returned. It was time to go. Fumio Tamamura looked into Jimmy Dye’s blue eyes. They had been born just a few months apart on opposite coasts as Americans. Tamamura thought of what to say. “I told him that Captain Yoshii is going to parade you in front of the men and then you’ll come back,” Tamamura recalled years later. “I just said you are going to be exhibited to the men on the hill. To this day I still think it was better not to tell him.” 

Lt. Hayashi and "Flyboys"
Author, James Bradley
(Courtesy of James Bradley)
Jimmy stood between two orderlies with his hands bound. They walked about fifty yards from the radio station toward a crowd gathered near a freshly dug hole. Conspicuous were Captain Yoshii and two lieutenants in dress uniform with sheathed swords.  Yoshii delivered a prayer to the assembly but Jimmy could not understand what was being said. At the sight of everyone bowing their heads, Dye did the same. Tamamura told Jimmy to sit at the edge of the hole at the order of Yoshii. He was then blindfolded by an orderly. Jimmy began to shake. His chin began to quiver like a person fighting back tears. He asked Tamamura, “What are they going to do to me?” Tamamura said, “I told him to sit still and that the commander was going to question him.” “He didn’t say anything. But he was pretty nervous.” Dye just nodded as if to say okay. His face had turned pale and beads of sweat began to drip from his hair. In Jimmy’s last letter to his father, he had written, “I’m still just a boy.” That boy was terrified. Captain Yoshii now addressed the assembly: “Watch closely. What today is another’s fate may be your fate tomorrow.” “It was a rephrasing of an old Japanese saying,” Tamamura said. “It’s used when someone has an unfortunate accident. Something to the effect that what happens to someone else may happen to me tomorrow.” Tamamura said, “When Captain Yoshii said, ‘Watch closely,’ the atmosphere was very somber. We felt these were not light words. We felt it was the truth. The American navy surrounded the island. We really did think we would die the next day.” “Kire!” Captain Yoshii barked. “Cut!” Lieutenant Hayashi obediently came forward. He described what happened next: “ ‘I will start,’ I said to the captain, saluting. I stepped to the rear of the prisoner. I saluted the prisoner and cut.” “Lieutenant Hayashi was trembling when he executed the American,” added Petty Officer Kaoru Nakamoto. “Everyone knew that Lieutenant Hayashi was not the man to do the job.” 

Hayashi’s blow failed to decapitate the prisoner. Hayashi said, “After I struck the blow, I dived among the crowd.” Petty Officer Sakamoto testified, “When the first blow struck, most of the men turned their backs. The flyer was groaning.” Petty Officer Shohei Shiina said, “I ran away after the first blow.” “Lieutenant Matsutani was supposed to be the second executioner,” Tamamura said, “but he faltered and was standing there frozen.” “I trembled when I saw Lieutenant Hayashi cut,” Matsutani testified. “I thought that the prisoner had already died. But the captain said, ‘Next, Lieutenant Matsutani cut.’ I saluted the captain and stepped two or three steps toward the prisoner.  “After the second blow, Dye’s body fell forward into the hole,” Tamamura said. “As he was sitting, he just toppled over.” “After the second stroke,” Petty Officer Teresada Aruga recalled, “I and other men broke ranks and ran away." A Flyboy had been killed, but there was no cheering. “There was just silence,” Tamamura said. Captain Yoshii motioned to Dr. Sasaki, who came forward.

Dr. Mitsuyoshi Sasaki
“After I removed the liver,” Dr. Sasaki testified, “I sewed up the incision and with the remaining thread sewed the neck. I cleaned off the blood. After I finished this, I placed his hands together and I saluted the body. When I did this, there were some people who laughed, but as for myself, I felt that I should give the body every respect possible.” Jimmy was buried in the hole where he lay. “I don’t think there was any formal dismissal,” Tamara said. “They just dissolved, went their own way. It was a clear, sunny day.” Twenty-year-old Petty Officer Tamamura walked from the scene back to his post at the radio station. “I felt confusion, sadness, horror,” he remembered. “I had never seen anyone killed before. Taking someone’s life is not something to be taken lightly. When something like that occurs and everybody has shared the knowledge, you don’t talk about it.” And the executioners hardly reveled in the memory. “I hate to remember it,” Hayashi said. “I never discussed it with Matsutani. We didn’t do it willingly. Matsutani was not the type of person to do it either. He was a sensitive person, a Tokyo University graduate.” Dye's liver was taken to Yoshii who had it prepared by his cook Petty Officer Kazunori Suzuki, and later consumed portions of it. He also forcibly served it in his quarters to officers attending a party later that evening.

On March 15, 1945, the Dyes received a telegram dated March 7th from Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs. “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son James Wesley Dye Jr. Aviation Radioman Third Class USN is missing following action while in the service of his country. The Department appreciates your great anxiety but details not now available and delay in receipt thereof must necessarily be expected. To prevent possible aid to our enemies please do not divulge the name of his ship or station.“ The family had no idea that their son had already been deceased for nearly 3 weeks upon reading this telegram. But Gloria Nields did. “I had a big eight-by-ten framed picture of Jimmy. It was the shot of him in his sailor uniform with a big smile. Every night I would kiss his picture and sleep with it. One night it fell on the floor and broke. I woke up and it scared me. I knew something had happened. Later I learned that was when Jimmy died.”

Kathryn Dye literally could not sit still thinking about Jimmy. She contacted everyone who knew him and asked them to come visit her. If they couldn’t come, she hit the road to see them. She stayed a week with Grady York’s family in Jacksonville. She and Marie York shed tears together but had no new information to share. Kathryn Dye and her husband drove to Wheeling, West Virginia, to see Jimmy’s buddy Ralph Sengewalt. They stayed for four days at Ralph’s parents’ home. “Mrs. Dye was a distraught mother anxious for her son. She said, ‘If he was killed and there was a body, I could accept it. But there was no body, so I can’t accept it.’ I couldn’t help much. All I could tell them was we saw Jimmy and Grady walking up on shore. I saw her cry many quiet tears.”

The Dyes received letter from VT-82 member AM1c Howard E. Lance stating that Jimmy was alive. “On the morning of the Chichi Jima strike, I had a talk with Dye and York prior to launching time.  I walked up to the plane as they were preparing for takeoff. This was the first raid for both, and they seemed somewhat worried. York looked down from his turret and said he was going out and give them the ‘devil.’ My conversation then turned to Jimmy Dye. As he strapped himself in, this is what he said: ‘Well, you may quote me as being a little nervous, but not scared as yet.’ He touched the white scarf he was wearing around his neck, and said: ‘An awfully sweet little girl gave me this scarf and she told me that her love and prayers went with it. I don’t need her love just now, but I need some prayers from someone.’ Those were his last words as I patted him on the shoulder.”  

James and Kathryn would also receive letters from Jimmy’s Lt. Commander Edward E. DeGarmo and USS Bennington Chaplain, Lyle A. Weed, who expressed sympathy from Dye’s shipmates and sent continued prayers. They spoke of how the men on the Bennington were fond of him and how his absence deeply moved them all. They stated Jimmy had safely landed in his parachute and there was good reason to believe that he was a prisoner of war. The Dyes had hope. Even after the war, they expected Jimmy to emerge from a prisoner-of-war camp any day. Jimmy’s friends and family hoped and prayed for a year that he was alive. They just didn’t know.  

James Sr. and Kathyn sent much correspondence to the Navy Department attempting to find the status of their son and frustrated by the lack of answers to their questions. As a result of this, a group of parents from the area whose sons were missing in action held a meeting at the Dye residence on the evening of March 3, 1946. This group organized the Parents of Missing Vets. It’s purpose was to obtain definite information from the government concerning their sons. They were given the full backing from Mount Ephraim Mayor Phillips and the Veterans Assistance Board of Gloucester City. Kathryn Dye was selected as a temporary chairman for the unit.

The family received a letter dated February 27, 1946 from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, stating that Jimmy was presumed deceased as of February 19, 1946, under “Finding of Death.” In the absence of a recovered body, servicemen were determined to be dead under Public Law 490. Made in most cases, after at least one year and one day from time of disappearance, when there was either conclusive proof that the person is dead or equally overwhelming evidence that the person could not have remained alive. Jimmy’s mother read this and suffered a nervous breakdown. Her condition became so frail that she was put under the care of a physician. The family held a memorial service in honor of Jimmy on the afternoon of March 10th at the Mount Ephraim Baptist Church. This service was officiated by Reverend Charles Capper.

“In June of 1946, we read an article in Life magazine about Chichi Jima and the torture and things done there,” Jimmy’s brother Ronnie Dye recalled. The Life article mentioned that General Tachibana and Major Matoba were accused of executing “American fliers shot down in the Bonins and, even more revolting, of practicing cannibalism on them.” There was “evidence of American fliers being clubbed, bayoneted and beheaded, of their bodies being mutilated, of their livers being served in sukiyaki, and strips of their flesh used to flavor soup.” “My mom read that Life article and got hysterical,” Ronnie Dye said. “She cried for years and years. It was never out of her mind. My mother never recovered. She was in a doctor’s care for the rest of her life.” Because the articles offered no American names and only sketchy rumored details, relatives were left in an anguished limbo.  

Capt. Yoshii led to
gallows on 9/24/1947
The article Ronnie was referring to was titled “National Affairs: Unthinkable Crime,” published in the September 16, 1946 edition of Time Magazine. This information was somehow leaked from the war crime trials against the Empire of Japan, held on the island of Guam in 1946-1947.  General Tachibana and Captain Yoshii, the 2 Japanese officers who ordered the execution and cannibalization of Jimmy Dye were tried in August 1946 and found guilty of murder and prevention of honorable burial. Both military and international law did not specify cannibalism as a crime. These two men were sentenced to death by hanging, an event which occurred just prior to sundown on September 24, 1947. Both men were buried in unmarked graves on the island. Lt. Hayashi, the first of two officers ordered to perform Jimmy's execution, received 7 years in prison for his actions.  

The Navy sent Jimmy's Purple Heart medal to his family on October 28, 1946. While Mr. Dye appreciated the fact that Jimmy had earned this medal and campaign ribbons, he would have been glad to receive them had his son not lost his life in the service of his country. He felt that the sight of any medals or decorations might cause a recurrence in his wife’s nervous condition. James wasn’t ungrateful for them, but keeping Kathryn’s health stable simply was his priority. Later, Mr. Dye wrote to the Navy on November 21, 1946, requesting they stop sending any correspondence to his address because “my wife suffers a nervous condition.” He asked that letters be addressed to the Veterans Assistance Office of Gloucester City which will in turn contact Mr. Dye personally “so that the mother of James will not have to suffer the pains she has already suffered in connection with her son’s death.” Bob King, the pilot of plane that Jimmy and Grady were aboard had visited the Dyes on a few occasions after the war to explain what had happened on the day that his crew bailed out over Chichi Jima.

On November 12, 1946, the Navy Department found conclusive evidence of Dye’s death. The Navy Caualty Commander H.B. Atkinson drafted a heavily censored letter to the family on November 18th explaining sparse details of Jimmy’s now known execution. American soldiers landed on Chichi Jima after cessation of hostilities and interrogated the Japanese troops stationed on the island. They were sent there looking for the whereabouts of the lost airmen. The Japanese soldiers and sailors explained the details of Dye’s captivity and death. They claimed that in June or July 1945, the body was exhumed, cremated, and the ashes were placed into a box that was reburied in the grave at the spot of his execution. The remains were later exhumed in late January 1946 by U.S. Marines graves registration unit. They found several unburied bones and a small amount of hair presumed to by Jimmy’s. The remains were placed in a container and shipped to Iwo Jima to be interred at the 4th Marine Division Cemetery in a grave marked “Unknown.” Radioman Dye's remains were later exhumed and transported back to Hawaii to be reburied on February 16, 1949 at at Plot N 1291 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Honolulu. The date of death on his grave marker says February 25, 1945, but every reference to his death I have found so far, including his death certificate, state Dye's death occurred on February 24th.

James Dye Jr Grave, Honolulu, Hawaii

After Jimmy was buried, the Dyes needed to escape the ghosts of local memories tied to their son. They decided to leave Mount Ephraim once Ronnie graduated from Audubon High School in 1950 and move down to the Miami, Florida area to live out the rest of their days. While they were told that Jimmy died by execution at the hands of the Japanese, his parents would never learn the truly horrific details about their son’s death. Kathryn passed away in December 1988 due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease and James Sr. passed in January 1990. It wasn’t until 55 years after Jimmy was killed, that transcripts from the war crime trials against Japan became declassified. Ronnie and his family would however, discover the true atrocities that took place on Chichi Jima.

 Display at AHS
Jimmy is honored at the Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Here, his name is listed on the Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. Audubon High School's Class of 1943 also honored their former classmate at Murray-Troutt American Legion Post #20 in Audubon on February 14, 2008. They dedicated a plaque and sign which now hang in the rotunda of Audubon High School. Each year, Dye is remembered at the Memorial Day services in Mount Ephraim at Veterans Triangle on Davis Avenue. You can find his name etched on the World War II memorial. 
One final note of interest. There was an airmen downed over Chichi Jima, that evaded capture and survived. This person was former United States President, George H. W. Bush.  Lieutenant Bush was a pilot with Torpedo Squadron 51. He was on a bombing mission to the Mount Yoake radio facility on September 2, 1944. The very same place that Jimmy Dye would later be present at just prior to his execution. While approaching the island, Bush’s TBM Avenger was shot down by anti-aircraft fire just offshore. His two crew mates bailed out of the plane but were never heard from again and presumed dead. Bush would be rescued by Navy submarine USS Finback.

While this story focuses on the life and death of Jimmy Dye, there were several airmen who suffered the same fate as he did. To learn more about all of these men, I highly recommend the novel mentioned in the beginning of this story, “Flyboys: A True Story of Courage” by James Bradley as well as the book, "Sorties Into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima" by Chester G. Hearn.

May their sacrifice never be forgotten.


Popular posts from this blog

Delbert K. Sandt

Willibold A. Stefan

George J. Ocavage